Selma Lagerlof was born in Vaermland, Sweden, in 1858. She was the first woman to receive a Noble Prize in Literature, in 1909. Her works are still very popular in Sweden. She is mostly unread in the English speaking world today, but her influence is with us through Ingemar Bergman and others. I like to think of her as the Swedish Nathanial Hawthorne. She is best known for her first novel, The Story of Gosta Berling
; and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
, a children's novel that also served as a geography lesson-book for Swedish school-children, as seen from the air on the back of a Goose (c.f. France's Le Tour de la France par deux enfants
), it is a children's classic in Germanic speaking countries. She wrote many other novels including Karkarlen
which was made into a 1921 silent film The Phantom Carriage
- it was influential with Ingemar Bergman when he was 12, so we have Lagerlof to blame for corrupting Bergman.
The work under review here, Invisible Links
, is not one of her better known but, like almost everything she wrote, it is worthwhile. This was her second published book; a collection of short tales in various genres. As LibriVox narrator and native Scandinavian Lars Rolander says, "Invisible Links
is a good introduction to the writings of Selma Lagerloef". In classic Scandanavian tradition most of the stories contain some sort of connection to the faerie world that determine the fate of the characters - thus, "invisible links." There are 14 stories in all, 12 reviewed below. The best stories are, in my opinion, in bold. Lars Rolander's excellent LibriVox reading, with his heavy Scandinavian accent, is highly recommended for a powerful invocation of place and time.
at Internet Archive (scanned book)
at LibriVox (audiobook)
"The Spirit of Fasting and Petter Nord" - this is the longest story in the collection. It is a contemporary love story, and a tale of revenge and justice with a twist.
"The Legend of the Bird's Nest" - a fable of sorts about an old, angry and mean hermit who finds redemption and renewal in a birds nest. Neat little tale.
"The King's Grave"
- Scandinavian pagan culture was ruled by fate - one's death was foreknown by the Gods and fated to occur. This wonderfully told story, set in the woods of Medieval Sweden, shows how fate rules the lives of simple country people, through the grave of a Viking King. Very evocative, the stone king is memorable.
- a Medieval setting, two outlaws hide in the woods from justice, one older the other younger. Beautiful realist descriptions of nature blended with magical forces, a dialectic between Christianity and paganism. A number of memorable scenes including rippling water that looks like a mermaid, men who look as stones, fighting eagles in a tree, an axe in the forehead.
"The Legend of Reor" - a short poetic and symbolically tinged romance involving white snakes and virgin nymphs in the deep dark woods.
"Valdemar Atterdag" - a poetic interpretation of the painting Valdemar Atterdag holding Visby to ransom, 1361"
(1882). Lagerlof's contribution to Sweden's national romanticism.
"The Romance of a Fisherman's Wife"
- excellent but somber fishing story about the deception of a young woman into marriage. Probably the most emotionally believable story of the collection. Bait, hook, reel-in, dress and feast.
"His Mother's Portrait" - Hawthorn-like story about a picture of a mans mother who continues directing his life from the grave. Overt symbolism.
"A Fallen King" - morality tale of a mans false-accusations of his wife fidelity that made him seem like the victim but in truth he was the perpetrator - when the truth comes out he is "a fallen king." Another twist to an old story.
"A Christmas Guest" - A sort of Dickens Christmas story about a town drunkard who reforms his ways and becomes a better person in the spirit of the season.
"Uncle Reuben" - the closest thing to comedy in this otherwise somber collection. A young boy dies by accident and for generations after in his extended family, whenever someone does something wrong they are reminded to be more like (or less like) uncle Reuben.
[STB, 01-18-2010, 1049]